It’s the New Year, which for the majority of us means vowing to eat better, exercise more, and save more money. But we might consider adding to this list the resolution to preserve our hearing.
In 2016, we saw countless reports regarding the escalating epidemic of hearing loss. The World Health Organization has alerted us that billions of people are at risk from direct exposure to loud noise levels at work, at home, and at play.
We also discovered that even teens are at risk, as the rate of hearing loss in teens is 30 percent higher than it was in the 1990s.
The truth is that our hearing can be damaged at work, while attending live shows, and even at home through the use of earbuds and headphones played at excessive volumes.
For 2017, let’s all get started on the right track by making some basic resolutions to protect and preserve our hearing health.
1. Know how loud is too loud
First, how loud is too loud, and how can you know when your hearing is at risk?
To start with, sound is measured in units called decibels. As the decibel level rises, the intensity of the sound increases along with the risk of hearing injury.
Here’s a list of sounds with their affiliated decibel levels. Keep in mind that any sound above 85 decibels can potentially harm your hearing with persistent exposure.
- Whisper in a quiet library – 30 decibels (dB)
- Normal conversation – 60 dB
- City traffic – 85 dB
- Jackhammer at 50 feet – 95 dB
- Motorcycle – 100 dB
- Music player at max volume – 100+ dB
- Power saw at three feet – 110 dB
- Loud rock concert – 115 dB
- 12-Gauge Shotgun Blast – 165 dB
Remember that with the decibel scale, a 10 dB increase is perceived by the human ear as being two times as loud. Which means that a rock concert at 110 dB is 32 times louder than a normal conversation at 60 dB.
2. Protect your ears
Hearing damage is influenced by three factors: 1) the volume or intensity of the sound, 2) the amount of time subjected to the sound, and 3) the distance between your ears and the sound source.
That means, in general, there are three ways you can protect against hearing damage from direct exposure to loud noise:
- Limit the volume with the use of earplugs (or by turning down the volume on a music player).
- Limit the time of exposure to the noise either by avoiding it or by taking rest breaks.
- Increase the distance from the sound source as much as possible (for example, not standing directly in front of the speakers during a rock concert).
The following are some other tips to protect your hearing:
- Apply the 60/60 rule when listening to music on a handheld device—listen for no more than 60 minutes at 60 percent of the max volume.
- Talk to your employer about its hearing protection programs if you work in an at-risk occupation.
- Wear hearing protection at loud locations and during loud activities. Inexpensive foam earplugs are available at your local pharmacy, and custom made earplugs are available from your local hearing specialist.
- Purchase noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones block external sound so you can listen to the music at decreased volumes.
- Purchase musicians plugs, a special kind of earplug that decreases volume without producing the muffled sound of foam earplugs.
3. Know the signs and symptoms of hearing loss
Hearing loss results when the nerve cells of the inner ear are damaged. Here are a few of the signs of hearing loss to look for directly after exposure to loud sounds:
- Ringing in the ears, also known as tinnitus.
- The feeling of “fullness” in your ears.
- Difficulty comprehending speech, where everything sounds muffled.
Those are some of the signs of hearing damage directly after exposure. Here are the signs of permanent hearing loss:
- Asking others to repeat themselves frequently, or regularly misinterpretation what people are saying.
- Having trouble following conversations and making fine distinctions between similar sounding words and phrases.
- Turning the TV or radio volume up to the point where others notice.
- Thinking that other people are always mumbling.
- Having difficulty hearing on the phone.
Most frequently, your family members or friends will be the first to observe your hearing loss. It’s easy to brush this off, but in our experience, if someone is told they have hearing loss by a family member, chances are good that they do.
4. Get a hearing test
Finally, it’s vital to get a hearing test, for two reasons. One, if your hearing is normal, you can not only inform others that your hearing is fine, you’ll also establish a baseline to evaluate future hearing tests.
Second, if the hearing test does display hearing loss, you can work together with your hearing care professional to identify the optimal hearing plan, which typically includes the use of hearing aids. And with modern-day technology, you can recover your hearing and improve almost every aspect of your life.